Friday, November 30, 2007

The Christmas Date (AKA Inspiration Comes from Sex on the Beach)

Ha--I bet that got your attention. A journalism colleague of mine, Bobby Hawthorne, writes in his book The Radical Write that if you want to get someone's attention just start with one word: Sex.

So I did. I'll explain how it all fits in later (ha--I'm punny).

I got a card in the mail yesterday from Nick Kenig thanking me for sending him an autographed copy of The Christmas Date and for the dedication, which is, in part, to him. Nick was a photographer at Westlake High School (Austin, TX) long ago. My friends Bradley Wilson and Mark Murray raved about his photography and to this day I still use Nick's swimming photograph as an example of excellence when I teach my students.

Nick is one of the inspirations for The Christmas Date. I'd always heard tons and tons about him from Bradley and Mark. While at a journalism convention in Atlanta, the four of us went to the Hard Rock Cafe in Atlanta. The card Nick sent me reminded me the four of us had a round of Sex on the Beach shots. I was the one who suggested the type of shot since Bradley had some tradition that you had to do shots if you were a first-timer to the Hard Rock. (Atlanta remains the only time I've ever been in one.)

This was about nine years ago, and my memory has since gotten cluttered with more of life's happenings. Nick's card reminded me of that night and our talk (which I'd forgotten). That night I'd listened to his future plans and then gone home to St. Louis at the end of the JEA/NSPA convention and formed the idea for this book. I remembered that, but the night itself slipped from my mind and not from too many shots either. Since we were had convention duties later, we were quite restrained.

I'd took Nick's musings and projected them forward--the big what if as he ceased to be Nick Kenig in my mind and instead became Tyler Nichols (get the last name?). Tyler (who was originally named Nick Wilsen) then became another character in my head who demanded to have his own book.

It took a few tries, a move of location from Atlanta to Orlando, and a bunch of books (14 Americans and 1 NASCAR) in between before Tyler became the hero of my 16th novel for Harlequin American. I gave Tyler a family (I have no idea any of Nick's family, his marital status, etc.) and paired him up with the most opposite character I could find--and called her Kate Merrill, giving her my birth name for grins (I'm adopted). I also picked Kate in honor of Kate Walker and my daughter Kate, and if you read the book you'll discover a Sandra (for Sandra Marton) and a Nora (who is no way Nora Roberts). You'll also find a Wendy, one of my friends who owns a bookstore. Each name in this book is deliberately chosen, even though the characters are really nothing like (or represent) anyone whose name I used.

In fact, if I passed Nick on the street I wouldn't recognize or know him. And the guy on the cover looks more like a principal at my high school than either Mark, Nick or Bradley.

However, Nick's card was a great jog to my memory, letting me remember something I'd long buried deep and wouldn't have remembered without his jolt. The card go me thinking about the fun we all had that weekend, including visits to CNN, Centennial Olympic Park and Max Lagers. The funny thing--there were race cars in town that weekend. How's that for fate? All my books mean something to me, but this one really stands out as being special because it took so long to bring it to life and it's been so fun since it has. It's got one of my all time favorite scenes (something with candles) and I'll give you a hint that it ends with a little sex on the beach (sort of). You'll have to read it to find out what I mean.

I still keep in touch with Mark and Bradley (saw them just a few weeks ago in Philadelphia), and Bradley keeps in touch with Nick who is in graduate school in New York City. As for me, I'm plugging away writing my 20th book, now having finished #19, which I send to my editor on Monday.



Estella said...

I love to know how authors come up with their characters.

Cherie J said...

Thanks for sharing. It is always interesting to find out how an author gets their inspiration.